REGINA — When Quebec and Ontario meet today at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Moose Jaw (7 p.m.), it will be more than a battle between two provincial rivals.
It will be a showdown between Quebec’s Angelo Esposito and Ontario’s John Tavares — two of Canada’s top up-and-coming players. And it’s not the first time the two have shared the same ice. Several years ago, the dynamic duo faced off in a summer development tournament. But it has been a while since they have seen each other play.
Both are reluctant to make it a Tavares-Esposito showdown, focusing instead on trying to get a win for their teams. Tavares was particularly concerned with facing one of the better Quebec teams to be iced in recent years.
“I am not really worried about (Esposito). I am more concerned about facing their team … He’s not the only player on that team that can score goals,” Tavares said.
That said, Tavares noted it was a special opportunity to lace up against a top player and he is looking forward to it.
“You obviously get to see his skill level, and what he can do with the puck,” Tavares said of Esposito. “You get to see what makes him such a great hockey player. It’s kind of exciting to see great players like that playing against you.”
Heading into the match-up, Esposito had only played one game — last night’s exhibition against the Czech Republic — since being cut from the Canadian national under-20 junior team. It took him a while to reacquaint himself with high-speed game conditions against the Czechs.
“I was just trying to go wide and create chances. I couldn’t bury them, but sometimes the puck doesn’t bounce your way. But I had a couple of nice setups. I have to work on my defensive game a little,” Esposito said.
With high expectations on both players’ shoulders come the natural comparisons with other top juniors from the past, such as Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux.
“For players like us, it’s flattering to hear but you can’t compare me to a Crosby. It’s not possible. Crosby is compared to with guys like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky … I am just trying to be the best player I can be at this age, and I am sure Tavares is doing the same thing.”